Oxygen and nutrient deprivation are common features of solid tumors. Although abnormal alternative splicing (AS) has been found to be an important driving force in tumor pathogenesis and progression, the regulatory mechanisms of AS that underly the adaptation of cancer cells to harsh microenvironments remain unclear. Here, we found that hypoxia- and nutrient deprivation–induced asparagine endopeptidase (AEP) specifically cleaved DDX3X in a HIF1A-dependent manner. This cleavage yields truncated carboxyl-terminal DDX3X (tDDX3X-C), which translocates and aggregates in the nucleus. Unlike intact DDX3X, nuclear tDDX3X-C complexes with an array of splicing factors and induces AS events of many pre-mRNAs; for example, enhanced exon skipping (ES) in exon 2 of the classic tumor suppressor PRDM2 leads to a frameshift mutation of PRDM2. Intriguingly, the isoform ARRB1-Δexon 13 binds to glycolytic enzymes and regulates glycolysis. By utilizing in vitro assays, glioblastoma organoids, and animal models, we revealed that AEP/tDDX3X-C promoted tumor malignancy via these isoforms. More importantly, high AEP/tDDX3X-C/ARRB1-Δexon 13 in cancerous tissues was tightly associated with poor patient prognosis. Overall, our discovery of the effect of AEP-cleaved DDX3X switching on alternative RNA splicing events identifies a mechanism in which cancer cells adapt to oxygen and nutrient shortages and provides potential diagnostic and/or therapeutic targets.
Wenrui Zhang, Lu Cao, Jian Yang, Shuai Zhang, Jianyi Zhao, Zhonggang Shi, Keman Liao, Haiwei Wang, Binghong Chen, Zhongrun Qian, Haoping Xu, Linshi Wu, Hua Liu, Hongxiang Wang, Chunhui Ma, Yongming Qiu, Jianwei Ge, Jiayi Chen, Yingying Lin